Arizona Budget Woes Compel Park Closures

Published February 1, 2010

The state of Arizona is poised to close approximately two-thirds of its state parks by June 3 because of ongoing budget shortfalls. The Arizona State Parks Board is expected to approve the closing of 13 state parks based on the recommendation of State Parks staff, submitted January 11.

Three state parks—McFarland, Jerome, and Oracle—have already been closed. Another 10 will be shut to the public in phases between February 22 and June 3.

Losing Money
Whether these parks will ever reopen is unknown, said Ellen Bilbrey, a public information officer for Arizona State Parks. Bilbrey said the $8.6 million taken from the parks coffer, called the Enhancement Fund, will not be easy to replace.

“These parks belong to the public,” said Bilbrey. “We get money from gate fees, from donations. So once you start shutting parks, you don’t have that fund [growing], and it becomes a downward spiral.”

Bilbrey argued closing state parks will hurt rural economies

“The people own these parks. Every state resident owns their parks. These are the economic engines for rural communities, designed to bring tourism into the area,” Bilbrey said.

‘Should Be Private’
Arizona isn’t the only state to consider park closures as a means of saving money. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) suggested closing 220 of 279 state parks to help bridge a multibillion-dollar budget gap. Park activists protested, and the governor changed his mind, but in the face of these state budget dilemmas, some are questioning why many of these parks are public in the first place.

“Renting or selling state parkland should be on the table,” says Floy Lilley, an adjunct faculty member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. “A vital function of markets is to shut down and sell off losing activities. That is the only way resources are not wasted.”

But government does not worry about the same profit-loss concerns as private enterprise, and that’s the overall problem that requires attention, Lilley said.

“They are not private operations,” said Lilley. “They should be. Any dollar that the state of Arizona has for parks and other operations has been first taken from the pocket of a private producer.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.